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On A Mission to Recognition: Why It Matters in the Workplace

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Seeing as this post is published on a Friday, I would like to observe #fbf aka Flashback Friday. Now close your eyes and cast your mind back to elementary school. What would happen in Kindergarten if you got the answer right to what 1+1 equals? You’d probably get something like a gold star or a handful of jelly beans; you would get recognized for your accomplishment and it would feel awesome.

As elementary as this concept is, you likely felt proud being recognized by your teacher and in front of your peers. The same concept carries over into adulthood with work. Recognition is a basic need that keeps us engaged with a task we’ve been assigned to complete.

However, recognition can be an easy concept to sweep under the rug when deadlines are looming and the powers that be make requests for deliverables at lightning speed. Nonetheless, the long-term implications of not giving out gold stars can have detrimental effects on an organization.

For all those Feds out there, the development of a recognition deprived work environment is becoming more and more prevalent. According to the 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, the Trend Analysis pertaining to the question, “How satisfied are you with the recognition you receive for doing a good job?” has seen a consistent decline since 2011, now calculated at 45% positive feedback.

Couple this with a finding from a popular Gallup poll stating the number one reason Americans leave their jobs is not feeling appreciated and the federal workspace is facing a pressing issue. In the insightful words of 90s one-hit wonder rapper, Sam Sneed, “You better recognize.”

A few other interesting facts regarding recognition in the workplace from Office Vibe:

  • Managers recognizing employee performance increases engagement by almost 60%.
  • When companies spend 1% or more of payroll on recognition, 85% of companies see a positive impact on engagement.
  • Organizations with effective recognition programs have 31% lower voluntary turnover.

Bottom line, the short-term benefits of recognizing employees are happier and more motivated employees. Long-term benefits are retaining employees.

As you can see recognition is an integral component in running a healthy and productive organization. However, without the sincerity of an authentic recognition program and practice, this effort in many ways can be counterproductive. This means going beyond merely checking the box and squeezing in at the end of the day, “Hey, good job on that status update from this morning” and figuring employees should be recognized just because it makes good business sense. Odds are these efforts can be deemed transparent by colleagues and subordinates potentially doing more harm than good.

My personal experience with genuine recognition stems back to my days growing up as an Army brat. I witnessed how sincere people’s gratitude was towards my father’s service. Or when someone was promoted or retiring, I witnessed ceremonies where there was a real sense of genuine respect for recognizing that individual for their accomplishments. I think this may have had to do with that individual putting their life on the line to serve this country but who knows. Now crunching numbers and answering emails doesn’t seem quite as perilous as being in a warzone but if there is any real model for genuine recognition, then the U.S. military has this down pat.

While formal ceremonies may not be as feasible to coordinate in a cube farm, there are other easy and engaging ways to recognize employees within your office like:

  • Create a banner strung across the work area to publicize a contribution or accomplishment for individual or group.
  • Bring them a cup of coffee/favorite morning beverage.
  • Copy senior management on thank-you notes to the employee, advising them of an employee’s efforts/accomplishments.
  • Present a Life Saver (pack of Life Savers and maybe a gift certificate) to an employee who pitched in during an emergency or staff shortage.

At the end of the day, “People make the organization.” This pearl of wisdom comes from none other than my father, Colonel Eddie Rosado (I know I reference him a lot but he’s my hero!). Please share your thoughts on how recognition is addressed in your workplace by leaving a comment below.

Ryan Rosado is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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7 Comments

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Profile Photo Junebfl

Nice article. Recognitions are important to one’s self esteem.
When a coworker has helped me in some way succeed at a project, I do several things:
1-I do use lifesavers candy with a small $ gift-card
2-I surprise their department with pizza for lunch
3-A fruit basket if the recognition has significance/impact
4-I send an email with a kudos clip art or flowers thanking them
Making deposits into one’s “emotional bank account” allows you to make withdrawals when you need it.

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Profile Photo Ryan Rosado

Thanks for the comment June, these are some other great suggestions. I’m also glad you understand the value of recognizing individuals on your team :-)!

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Andrew James

Great article! I was looking for some subtle ways to recognize staff for going above and beyond on different task/assignments. I will certainly use some of these ideas. Do you have any ideas for monthly/quarterly/annual recognition programs?

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Profile Photo Ryan Rosado

Hi Andrew, thanks for the nice comment. Some ideas I have for you come from my time at the U.S. Postsal Service. Whenever we completed a major project everyone involved on the project team received a certificate of appreciation and we also had a pizza party. It was a great way to feel recognized for a job well done and fostered a sense of comraderie. Also, whenever there was a quarterly townhall meeting, awards were always given out to teams and individuals for the amazing work they accomplished (submitted to the senior leadership through employee’s managers). Hope this helps!

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Richard Wisti

Our agency has done a good job of integrating recognition into our workplace. Peer-to-peer recognition plays a huge role. As the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, staff came up with C.A.K.E. (Clean Air Kudos for Employees). Each department/team rotates hosting a 30-minute all-staff meeting each month, or CAKE celebration. The sponsoring team comes up with a theme and coordinates the date and time. Throughout the month managers and staff fill out “CAKE coupons” where kudos are highlighted on a 1/8 slip of letter-size paper. The coupons are deposited by the author into a drawing bin. At CAKE, three winners are drawn, the reason written on the coupon is read aloud, and small prizes are awarded to the recipients. Then we also have a playful way of using a Stanley-Cup-style roaming award called the “Whoopee Award for Clean Air”. This plaque with a actual whoopee cushion mounted to it is given by the previous recipient to a new recipient. The accolades/reason for passing along the award are read aloud and the exchange is made winner-style at the CAKE meeting. Photographs are also taken during the CAKE meetings so employees who couldn’t make it can get a sense of the meeting. An intranet page was also created for CAKE where photos and highlights can be shared. In the works is re-purposing an old 32″ LCD TV and destined-for-surplus laptop to host a staff information center in the lunchroom. These recognition programs cost our agency very little and seem to have a very positive ROI.

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Profile Photo Ryan Rosado

Wow!!! I love your comment. Your agency seems to really have recognition down pat; I am super impressed. But I wouldn’t expect anything less from the progressive West Coast :). Thanks for sharing what your agency does to boost morale and recognize employees and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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